Interview: Accomplished Tattoo Artist Nikki Harris Comes to Studio Incamminati to Follow Her Art School Dreams

nikki harris

Nikki Harris

1. Why did you choose to come to Studio Incamminati?

I had gone to a live figure drawing class one night at a studio in Pittsburgh. I noticed one of the guys next to me was really good, so I asked him where he learned. He said he had gone to SI for a painting workshop in the past. That encouraged me to sign up for a painting workshop. I fell in love with it during that week and ever since then it has been on mind to come back in any capacity I could. During the coronavirus shutdown this year, I had some down time to really consider my plans for the future. At this time I was also actively doing "The Artist Way" workbook. I think it was a culmination of these two major life shifts that led me to finally register.

2. What are you hoping to get out of your experience?

I am looking to get better at art, particularly realism, which I will apply to tattooing. I’m also hoping one day I could make a living doing art in other forms. This would be several years from now as I still love tattooing and don't plan on stopping or minimizing any time soon. However, I sometimes have a hard time envisioning myself as an older woman still working as a tattoo artist, and see myself working in other mediums more.


tattoos by nikki harris

Recent tattoos by Nikki Harris


3. Tell us about your history as a tattoo artist, and about your particular style of work.

I was in love with tattoos when I was younger. I thought people with tattoos looked so cool and were a part of a culture I wanted to be part of and know more about. As I got older, I completely lost interest in art. I had all kinds of odd jobs and never pursued anything art related. Then I started getting tattoos and a light bulb went off that this might be a way to use art to make a living AND do something I was interested in and found exciting. I sought out an apprenticeship in Illinois where I'm from and it went from there. I did little to no research as far as who was going to teach me, I just knew I wanted it so bad I would have been willing to learn from anyone who was willing to teach me. Luckily, I landed in the honey pot and ended up with a wonderful teacher in a very reputable and busy shop in the area. I was able to learn SO much while there. From there, it has brought me all kinds of places. I travel all over and on one of my excursions, ended up in Pennsylvania and ended up staying.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned I enjoy doing color realism the most...but slightly illustrative rather than hyperrealistic. It's very hard for me, which is why I enjoy it the most. Every tattoo requires me to "figure it out" and troubleshoot. I have to be present and ready to learn from it through each experience, but the challenge keeps me very excited.


4. How do you think a realist art education will help your work as a tattoo artist?

Being a tattoo artist for a few years now, my only regret is that I never cultivated that art education I could have pursued when I was younger, when I was distracted by other things or found art to be boring and uninteresting. I wish I would have gotten a formal education in art. So this year I finally decided it was time to learn. Because I don't KNOW what I don't know, I feel like I need to be around other learning artists and have someone teach me, telling me when I'm messing up and pointing out what I'm doing wrong and what's missing.

I can already tell that the information I am gathering as a student is being brought into my tattoos. I am now learning how to see things I didn't see before, to pay attention to particular shadows and sharpen my eye for details. I would say most of all, I will soon have an entire toolbox to use at work. I think I would struggle for years in tattooing, putting things in certain places, colors, shadows, shapes, etc....but not knowing WHY. I want to know WHY it goes there, in addition to knowing how to put it there. That is what I came to learn!


Follow Nikki on Instagram to see more of her tattoo work!

drawing by nikki harris


Curious about our programs or how technical realist art training can aide in your career as an artist? Attend our Virtual Open House on February 6 from 12 – 2pm. Register here.

For any questions or to schedule a tour, contact our Operations Manager, Dan Mahlman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (215) 592-7910.